I left my husband last night. There’s something so nice about the past tense—left. He’s still in California. Meanwhile, I’m standing in a gas station in Middle-of-Nowhere, Texas. I have no money, no car. I pawned a gaudy diamond tennis bracelet to purchase a plane ticket to San Antonio, and to its credit, the bracelet also paid for the taxi currently fueling up at the pump outside. However, my cash has run out and my stomach is growling.
I eyeball the shelves lined with an array of sugary junk food. It’s the good stuff: half-dozen packs of white powdered donuts that are messier than glitter bombs and stacks of sad, deflated honey buns. It all seems like what aliens would come up with if tasked with recreating human food. In spite of this, my mouth waters just looking at it all. I want to tear open a bag of Doritos and waterfall the chips straight into my mouth. I want to double-fist the ancient, desiccated hot dogs destined to forever spin on greasy rollers—that’s how hungry I am.
I didn’t plan my departure very well. I didn’t plan it at all, in fact. Last night, I was lying on my side of the bed, wide awake. Andrew was snoring loudly beside me, just as confident as ever that the sun would rise in the morning like it always does. An hour earlier, he’d come in late from a work dinner with lipstick smeared on his cheek. His white collar, meanwhile, was pristine.
I had a million reasons for leaving him—enough to fill this entire gas station snack aisle, enough to make any marriage counselor put a big down payment on a vacation home—but last night, I only needed one. I left, and that’s all that matters. There’s half a country between him and me, and the only thing I have to worry about now is putting my next foot forward…well, that and the fact that I have nowhere to go, no money, no job, and no food. I’m also rapidly running out of sellable accessories, but let’s not get bogged down by the details.
I stare at a can of peanuts sitting on the shelf. Yesterday, I could have slapped my black AMEX down on the checkout counter and dragged my arm across the shelf, knocking food into my basket like a contestant on Supermarket Sweep. Now, I can’t afford peanuts; Andrew canceled my cards as soon as he realized I left.
I smile, imagining how pissed he must have been when the truth dawned on him. He never thought I’d do it. It was part of his spiel: Who pays the bills? Who buys your clothes? You’re nothing without me, Meredith—worthless.
In a purely financial sense, he was right about the whole “worthless” thing. My net worth currently consists of a couple dollars and some loose change. He was wrong about the other part though. I left him, and I did it in the middle of the night with nothing but the clothes on my back. It’s the outfit I had laid out for a charity luncheon—an event that must be taking place at this very moment without me. The ensemble is a frilly white blouse, Hermes belt, and designer jeans.
My great escape was a victim of my fleeting courage. I knew if I sat down and planned it all out, I’d lose my nerve. I needed to have no time to back out, no second-guessing. Now, I realize I should have been a bit more practical. I should have packed myself some getaway snacks, water, maybe some sneakers.
Honestly, though, I never thought I would be here. Of all the places I could have run to, Texas seemed to make the most sense because of my sister—well, technically she’s my half-sister. I recall the phone conversation I had with her last night while I was at the airport trying to catch a red-eye. I had to dial her number about a dozen times before she finally answered.
“Meredith?” she asked, obviously shocked to see my name appear on her phone screen. We aren’t exactly close. She probably has me in her phone as That Half-Sister I Hardly Know, Meredith. To be fair, I have her in my phone as Half-Helen.
She didn’t answer back right away. There was so much static on her end of the line.
“Are you there? Can you hear me?” I plugged my free ear with a finger and hoped the call would suddenly come through clearer.
“Barely!” she shouted. “What’s going on? I have like fifty missed calls from you.”
I blanched. “Yeah, well, it’s actually kind of a long story, but I’m on my way to Texas.”
She sounded shocked, and that’s fair. She’s lived in the Lone Star State for six years and I’ve never visited.
I cut right to the chase since time was another luxury I’d abandoned.
“Yes, and I have a favor to ask…a rather big one actually.”
“Speak up, Meredith, I can hardly hear you. You need a favor?”
“Yes, well, that is”—I raised my voice—“I was wondering if I could stay with you for a while?!”
“I’m actually already headed your way.”
A lighthearted, singsong chuckle on my end did not ease her shock.
“Are you kidding? Brent, hold on, it’s Meredith.”
I heard a door close and then she dropped a bomb.
“Well, I hope you haven’t left yet. I’m in Paris.”
“You’re in Paris?! Paris Paris?”
For the record, my sister is not a jetsetter. I hoped she meant Paris, Texas, not the croissant-filled country half a world away.
“Yes, Paris Paris. Brent and I are traveling for the next three months while our house gets renovated.”
“You’ve got to be kidding.”
I really almost broke down then. My throat was tightening. Tears were locked and loaded. People were starting to look at me and wonder if TSA had made a mistake letting me through security.
My flight was already boarding as my sister continued, “We’ve been wanting to redo the kitchen and bathrooms for a while…”
What the hell does that have to do with Paris?
“…so we thought, why not make a big trip out of it while our house is unlivable?”
Unlivable. I guess there’s more than one way to demolish a home, a life.
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Let’s see, I told the bank, the contractors, the permit office—oh darnit! Now that you mention it, I did forget to tell the half-sister I haven’t spoken to since when…Christmas?”
Her tone implied that was my fault, and it was—partly.
“Sorry, I’ve been MIA.”
“It’s fine. Listen, why don’t we try to schedule something for the holidays like we always say we will? This time we’ll do it. I’ll fix up the guest room for you and Andrew—”
I rubbed my eyes, hoping I could push the tears back to where they belonged. There was so much to catch her up on.
“No, Helen. It’s a long story, but I need to come now. Can I stay in the house while you guys are gone?”
“It’s a disaster zone. There are exterior walls missing. That’s why we left.”
“Right.” Of course. She’d just told me that. “What about jobs? Do you know of anyone hiring? I could update my resume…I think I have it saved on my old university email somewhere.”
At that point Helen began to crack up, then she repeated my request to Brent, and together, their chorus of laughter pounded on my heart like it was a punching bag.
Oh ha-ha-ha, your life is falling apart before your very eyes. Stop, stop—you’re killing me!
“Is this a prank? If so, it’s a very expensive, overseas-phone-call prank. Did Andrew put you up to this?”
“Last call for passengers for flight 365, service to San Antonio. Final boarding at gate 12.”
She must have heard the announcement, because her next words were delivered in a much more serious tone. “Oh my god, you’re really at the airport, aren’t you?”
I was flying down the terminal, knocking down any and all children and elderly people in my path, trying to get to my gate before they closed the doors without me. They even said my name over the loudspeaker. I always wondered what kind of dummy has to have their name announced like that. Me. I’m the dummy.
“Yes. Helen, I’m coming to Texas and I need your help.” I was out of breath from running as I pleaded with her. “Please. I can’t explain, but I just need to cash in whatever love you might have for me.”